Blizzard of fix-it patches.

    Blizzard of fix-it patches.

    The second Diablo 3 panel from Blizzcon 2014 was held on Saturday afternoon, and it covered the evolution of Reaper of Souls. The first half of the panel focused on various elements of Diablo 3 at launch, and how they’ve changed over time. All areas of the game were mentioned, but Items received the most attention, which led into the Diablo 3 Legendary Design Workshop section of the panel, where ideas submitted by the community were whiteboarded and debated by the game devs.

    The opening of the panel covered numerous features in the game upon launch, and how they’ve changed. The descriptions of the early game were quite negative in tone; surprisingly so. It was very much a “we made a lot of bad decisions and are glad to have fixed or at least improved upon them” and done with a rueful tone full of dark humor. No fingers were pointed and they didn’t bring Jay Wilson up in chains to flog him publicly, but watching live, I wouldn’t have been completely surprised if they had.

    Topics included the 4-stage difficulty system and how players hit a wall in Inferno. The world design that incentivized players to run and rerun the same monsters, and spend more time in the game creation and waypoint menu than actually playing the game. (This part included some mention of DiabloWikiAlkaizer Runs, which were illustrated by a large slide showing the DiabloWiki.net article, which caused me to Twitter squeal.)

    Slide from the panel.

    Even Leah could see the troubles…

    The aspects of items covered included:

  • Too much junk dropping made loot feel worthless.
  • Too much randomness and lack of affix weighting made good items too hard to obtain.
  • Too much of a “long tail” planned for item and economy progression.
  • Overlapping item quality (some blues better than some yellows, some yellows better than many legendaries) made progression fuzzy.
  • Poorly designed legendaries were just stat sticks rather than unique tools.
  • Junk affixes mixed all together on the same item. (e.g. STR on quivers.)
  • The Auction House short-circuited the item hunt reward concept.
  • Plus more, as you’ll see when you watch the panel below. And they they didn’t even get into things like the terrible crafting system, item power being way too tied to their item level, the lack of any way to socket or enchant gear, etc.

    Along with those faults they listed ways things have improved, chiefly with DiabloWikiLoot 2.0 and RoS introducing sorted affixes, smart drops, enchanting, much better legendary items, much higher drop rates, the end of the Auction House, and so on. Josh told an interesting story about how they decided to close the AH, and how it went from outrageous heresy to accepted strategy very quickly during the high level internal discussion.

    Anyway, watch the panel for yourself and see all of this in full detail. Click through for the embedded video, some more screens I took of the stage and slides during the show, and exclusive info about the D3 preparation for this year’s show, based on a conversation I had with one of the devs after this panel.

    All these pics were taken during the panel; I think most of them will be shown in the video, but I haven’t had time to watch it all yet. (The slides are shown on big monitors to the side of the stage, but are not displayed behind the speakers, so if the coverage doesn’t switch to show the slides when they’re up, panel viewers on TV don’t get the full powerpoint effect.)

    I talked to Julian Love after the panel and he was excited about it. He said they’d never done a panel before with unscripted, live content and weren’t sure if it would work; turning fans loose onstage. They were even worried about something like “what if someone falls walking up to the stage?” and had much lower stages with just three steps up than they’d had in past years. Plus no seats for the D3 devs during their panels, as they felt it kept their energy up and made interaction with the audience more immediate.

    I also asked Julian about something that I tweeted afterwards; why no new D3 designer shirts this year? Past years they had all new matching fashions, but this year all the D3 guys were just in regular clothes, or shirts they’d made for past Blizzcons. Julian took the question more seriously than I thought it was, and said it reflected their focus on the game. He mentioned how big and elaborate the new demo builds were in past shows, and how they spent literally months preparing for Blizzcon, planning out multiple panels with a ton of content, working on the demo, etc, and that time came directly out of working on the game itself.

    This year they didn’t worry about new clothing, only did two panels, kept their media commitments minimal, did a playable demo with new content, but one that’s just an emulation of a Grift, etc. This made for a decent Blizzcon D3 presence, but in a year with so much from their other games, and the new Overwatch IP debuting, there wasn’t a need for a big D3 display. And with the time saved from that, they got much more work done on the game.

    He didn’t say a word about what they were working on, but it’s pretty obvious it’s an expansion, the way Josh and others replied to questions during Friday’s panel. Note that all the content announced at Blizzcon is just more of what we’ve had. Season Two, a few more legendary items, a few new item sets, old Legendaries with improved Legendary Affixes, etc. The only public info we have is them working on patches with incremental improvements for RoS, while their main dev efforts are on the yet to be announced expansion.

    At least that’s my impression, and I suppose I could be wrong? It happened before. Once, I think…

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